Ending the Criminalization of Addiction

In her two-part career as a public defender and clinical social worker, Lisa has spent over a decade working with people who suffer from severe substance use disorder and are caught up in the criminal justice system.  She is a dedicated advocate for ending the criminalization of drugs and addiction, writing and speaking publicly about the issue.

As an attorney, Lisa has represented several hundred individuals charged with crimes because of their addictions.  As an outpatient addiction therapist, she provided treatment to hundreds of probationers and prisoners.  While working as a clinician at the men's maximum security prison in Massachusetts, Lisa witnessed firsthand the punitive response to prisoners who are actively suffering from addiction (i.e. using drugs in prison); instead of treatment, punishment is imposed, including solitary confinement.  Lisa observed the damaging impact of this punishment.  Her efforts to advocate for treatment in prison were repeatedly shut down. 

Frustrated by her inability to effect change from inside the prison walls, Lisa returned to the practice of law.  She passionately argues that it is unconstitutional, immoral, and clinically damaging to order probationers who suffer from severe substance use disorder to be drug-free and impose incarceration for relapse.  Lisa and co-counsel Benjamin Keehn currently have a case pending in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (Commonwealth v. Eldred) furthering this argument.  Read about the Eldred case in The New York Times (also NYT Editorial), The Atlantic and VICE, and listen to Season 2/episode 8 "Willful Acts" on the HI-PHI Nation podcast and NPR's On Point.

Along with addiction specialist, Sarah Coughlin, LICSW, LADC-I, Lisa provides trainings to attorneys and social workers about best practices when advocating for clients in the criminal justice system who are drug-addicted.  To learn more about these trainings, send an email to lisa@lisanewmanpolk.com